Understanding why racial/ethnic inequities along the HIV care continuum persist in the United States: a qualitative exploration of systemic barriers from the perspectives of African American/Black and Latino persons living with HIV.

Publication date: Aug 30, 2023

Racial/ethnic inequities along the HIV care continuum persist in the United States despite substantial federal investment. Numerous studies highlight individual and social-level impediments in HIV, but fewer foreground systemic barriers. The present qualitative study sought to uncover and describe systemic barriers to the HIV care continuum from the perspectives of African American/Black and Latino persons living with HIV (PLWH) with unsuppressed HIV viral load, including how barriers operated and their effects. Participants were African American/Black and Latino PLWH with unsuppressed HIV viral load (N = 41). They were purposively sampled for maximum variability on key indices from a larger study. They engaged in semi-structured in-depth interviews that were audio-recorded and professionally transcribed. Data were analyzed using directed content analysis. Participants were 49 years old, on average (SD = 9), 76% were assigned male sex at birth, 83% were African American/Black and 17% Latino, 34% were sexual minorities (i. e., non-heterosexual), and 22% were transgender/gender-nonbinary. All had indications of chronic poverty. Participants had been diagnosed with HIV 19 years prior to the study, on average (SD = 9). The majority (76%) had taken HIV medication in the six weeks before enrollment, but at levels insufficient to reach HIV viral suppression. Findings underscored a primary theme describing chronic poverty as a fundamental cause of poor engagement. Related subthemes were: negative aspects of congregate versus private housing settings (e. g., triggering substance use and social isolation); generally positive experiences with health care providers, although structural and cultural competency appeared insufficient and managing health care systems was difficult; pharmacies illegally purchased HIV medication from PLWH; and COVID-19 exacerbated barriers. Participants described mitigation strategies and evidenced resilience. To reduce racial/ethnic inequities and end the HIV epidemic, it is necessary to understand African American/Black and Latino PLWH’s perspectives on the systemic impediments they experience throughout the HIV care continuum. This study uncovers and describes a number of salient barriers and how they operate, including unexpected findings regarding drug diversion and negative aspects of congregate housing. There is growing awareness that systemic racism is a core determinant of systemic barriers to HIV care continuum engagement. Findings are interpreted in this context.

Concepts Keywords
American HIV care continuum
Hiv Qualitative
Pharmacies racial/ethnic inequities
Qualitative Structural barriers
Transgender Structural racism
Systemic barriers
Systemic racism


Type Source Name
disease MESH substance use
disease MESH COVID-19

Original Article

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